Half a century ago, anti-Vietnam War protesters chanted "the whole world's watching" at out-of-control Chicago police during the Democratic National Convention. (A band you might have heard of used the audio for a track on their first album, Chicago Transit Authority.)
The whole world will be watching, again, when Americans vote in the midterm elections. Between now and then, it would behoove us to watch the world—to get beyond political calculations and machinations—through the films and stories of people in other countries. Here are some outstanding opportunities to do that.
San Francisco Green Film Festival
Cowell and Castro Theaters, San Francisco
Sept. 6–14, 2018
It’s a travesty that neither the media nor politicians make climate change a campaign issue. Or, while we’re at it, exploitation of natural resources or environmental justice. The San Francisco Green Film Festival hikes into the void with a stellar selection of beautifully made, solution-oriented films from around the globe that spotlight the ways that humans abuse the planet (and each other). Can we handle the truth about the destructive effects of benzene on workers assembling our cellphones in Chinese factories (Complicit, Sept. 7)? Will we ever confront our individual resistance to our impact on air, water, earth and fire (The Human Element, Sept. 9)? Inquiring minds want to know.
Cine+Mas S.F. Latino Film Festival
Various San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley theaters
Sept. 14–30, 2018
California is a blue state, and Texas is turning purple. That tells us something about the true nature of immigration, assimilation and multiculturalism. The S.F. Latino Film Festival transcends headlines and slogans with movies whose themes encompass family, tradition, culture, urbanization and injustice—and that span this side of border down to the tips of Chile and Argentina. It reaches a kind of crescendo in Yo No Me Llamo Ruben Bladés (Ruben Bladés is Not My Name), Panamanian director Abner Menaim’s opening night portrait of a man for whom art, politics and life are a single pulsing thread.
Luchino Visconti: Cinema of Struggle and Splendor
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Sept. 14–Nov. 30, 2018
Ossessione, Bellissima, Rocco and His Brothers, The Leopard, The Damned, Death in Venice. There’s nothing coy or tentative about the titles of Luchino Visconti’s films; they set the stage for wrenching drama and fierce emotion before you even walk in the theater. An insider by birth and an outsider by way of political philosophy and sexual orientation, the late, great Italian director had the rare ability to infuse stark scenarios with lush (and luscious) artistry. (Your fall immersion in Italian cinema should include Ciao Marcello!, the Mastroianni marathon at the Castro on Sept. 22.)
Mill Valley Film Festival
Various North Bay theaters
Oct. 4–14, 2017
Marin County’s annual autumnal gem has figured out how to make two filmmaking strands, seemingly poles apart, harmoniously coexist: the hard-hitting social-issue documentaries that seek to incite audiences, and the star-driven dramas that aspire to gold statuettes. The grit and the glamour, if you will. But perhaps they aren’t as different as we think, because nowadays the prestige narratives are rarely backed by profit-obsessed Hollywood studios and represent the handiwork of serious-minded actors and filmmakers with a conscience. Hence the opening night selection of A Private War, documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s narrative debut starring Rosamund Pike as real-life war correspondent Marie Colvin.
Satyajit Ray: Intimate Universes
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Oct. 4–21, 2018
Modern Cinema, the thrice-yearly, three-weekend film series programmed and presented by SFFILM and SFMOMA, does a mighty swell job of connecting cinema’s past and present. It’s difficult to think of a filmmaker more timeless and universal than this season’s focus, Satyajit Ray, who put Indian cinema on the map in 1955 with the gentle-yet-unsentimental neorealist masterpiece Pather Panchali and its sequels Aparajito and The World of Apu (all screening Oct. 4 and 5). The program encompasses Ray’s humanist brothers-in arms (peers Vittorio de Sica and Jean Renoir and successors Abbas Kiarostami and Krzysztof Kieślowski), as well as directors with a special affinity for India like Merchant-Ivory and Mira Nair. Highly recommended for anyone needing a dose of compassion, reason and humanity as an antidote to the campaign cacophony.
Opens Nov. 2, 2018 in Bay Area theaters
Then again, perhaps arena-scale bombast is exactly what we need as the election season reaches its climax. Bryan Singer’s biopic, conceived by Brits Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan and written by McCarten, recounts Queen’s rise to stardom, lead singer Freddie Mercury’s pursuit of a solo career and the band’s legendary 1985 performance at the Live Aid fundraising concert for Ethiopia. Expect the whole megillah: kick-out-the-jams rock, hedonistic excess, shimmering costumes, diva outbursts, tender romance and shameless third-act tearjerking. Regardless of your sexual or musical orientation, plan on three hankies.